UK Environment Agency Warns Coastal Communities Must Prepare to Move

UK Environment Agency Warns Coastal Communities Must Prepare to Move

The UK's Environment Agency warns that homes located in flood-prone coastal communities may have to be sacrificed. As climate change continues to increase vulnerability, rebuilding might just become too expensive over time. The Chair of the Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd, told The Times that households in these coastal communities should consider relocating -- rather than rebuilding -- as the Agency continues to assess risk across vulnerable areas.

Why This Matters

The question of whether to relocate or rebuild is one that flood-prone communities will continue to face. The solution may vary from place to place. Yet, as highlighted by last July's flash floods in London and deadly floods that swept across Germany, flood risk cannot be taken lightly. In the UK, around 1.9 million people live in areas that are at significant risk of river, coastal, or surface water flooding. According to the Climate Change Committee, these numbers will only increase. By 2050, the number of people at risk could double.

Flood Defense

Flood defense measures have already been implemented in several vulnerable areas. The communities of Bacton and Walcott, for example, undertook a £20 million "sandscaping" scheme in 2019, pumping tons of sand onto the beach to protect against flooding and erosion. In the US, residents and officials in San Francisco's Stinson Beach are exploring the building of dunes as a defense while Miami grapples with a 20-foot wall proposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Still, massive scale flood resiliency projects are often controversial and may threaten quality of life for residents. In Howard Boyd's words, some communities "do not want to live behind ever higher concrete walls." Though beneficial in the short term, flood defense solutions may serve only to buy time.

To Leave or Stay?

Howard Boyd emphasizes that we should not consider vulnerable homes lost yet, however. The government plans to increase spending on flood defenses to £5.2 billion over the next six years. Communities are encouraged to "build back better" after disaster in order to improve resiliency against future flood events.

The bottom line is that flood-prone communities must be prepared before disaster strikes. According to Dr. Sally Brown, a sea level rise expert at Bournemouth University, "It's about preparing in advance to allow for a slow move, rather than having to do it unplanned."

ITV News: UK not prepared for coastal erosion, September 24, 2021.

Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse - here's how, October 19, 2021.